Home Freezing and Food Preservation Ideas: Fruits and Veggies

The beginner's guide to preserving summer produce.

By Elaine Magee, MPH, RD
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Expert Column

Want to save money and boost nutrition? Try preserving fresh fruits and vegetables from your garden or the farmers market to use year-round -- no water bath or pressure cooker required! The trick: Let your freezer do the work.

And don't worry; we won't get too complicated here. This is a beginner's course to preserving food. Only the absolutely easiest ways to freeze and preserve fruits, vegetables, and herbs will be discussed! If you have a handful of freezer plastic bags, a mixing spoon, a refrigerator, and microwave or stove, you have everything you need to get started.

Here are some tips, techniques, and recipes to help you get started freezing fruits, vegetables, and herbs.

Dry Pack Freezing Technique for Fruit

The dry pack freezing method involves freezing individual slices or pieces of fruit on a cookie sheet. Just spread out the pieces of fruit on a cookie sheet or jellyroll plan (line the pan with wax paper if you like) and place in the freezer. When the pieces are solidly frozen, remove them with a spatula or large spoon and pack in plastic freezer bags or freezer containers.

Berries are great candidates for freezing. Here are three steps to freezing raspberries or blackberries:

  • Gently wash the berries and remove any damaged pieces of fruit. Drain.
  • Spread berries on a tray or cookie sheet (lined with wax paper, if desired) and place in the freezer until each piece is frozen.
  • Pack frozen fruit in containers or freezer bags. Seal well and keep in the freezer until needed.

You can also freeze apple slices to use for apple pie. Just wash the apples in cold water, cut them into quarters and remove the core. Cut the quarters into slices, and use the dry pack freezing technique described above.

And believe it or not, the same method works for whole tomatoes. After Florida resident Tarrant Figlio, a message board moderator for WebMD, planted too many tomato plants last summer, she discovered a nifty way to preserve them for winter.

She washed her extra tomatoes, put them whole on cookie sheets, and then froze them. Once they were frozen, she put them in freezer bags. To use them, she just rinsed them under warm water to remove the skins.

"I didn't have the time or enery to can them all, plus was a little nervous about the acidity safety issue," Figlio says. "I used them mostly in recipes that call for cooked/canned tomatoes ... not fresh; because the texture gets mushy once they are thawed."

Freezing Vegetables

For freezing vegetables, you'll use a similar technique, but apply a little heat first. Carol Ann Burtness, MEd, with the Minnesota Extension Office, says her favorite preserving tip is to briefly blanch the vegetables, drain them, spread them out in a single layer on a cookie sheet, and place it in the freezer.

"After vegetables are frozen solid (2-3 hours), transfer vegetables to a freezer-safe plastic bag and keep them in the freezer until needed," she says.

The blanching step inactivates enzymes in fresh produce that can cause changes in color, nutrient content, and flavor when frozen. It also helps destroy microorganisms on the surface of the vegetables, according to the University of Minnesota Extension Service.

To blanch vegetables for freezing, follow these steps:

  • Use about 1 gallon of water for each pound of vegetables.
  • Bring water to rolling boil.
  • Submerge a wire basket containing the vegetables into the boiling water.
  • Boil briefly (depending on the vegetable, about 1 to 2 minutes)
  • Lift the basket and cool vegetables immediately in ice water (to prevent further cooking) then drain the vegetables thoroughly.
  • Follow the steps for the dry pack freezing technique above.

Some microwaves offer directions in their manuals on blanching vegetables. Refer to your manual for times and directions because the power levels vary among different brands and types of microwave ovens.

And don't forget: when you're ready to use your frozen vegetables, cook them only until just tender. (Your cooking time will usually be about half as long as if the vegetables were fresh.) This way, the color will be brighter and the texture firmer.

Freezer Jams and Preserves

When it comes to uncooked freezer jams, it's all about the berries! According to the University of Minnesota Extension Service, raspberries, strawberries, and blackberries work best in uncooked freezer jam recipes. Uncooked jams can be safely stored in the refrigerator for several weeks or up to a year in the freezer. (Check out the recipe for Strawberry Orange Freezer Jam below.)

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